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Trudge worth bridge painter's while

Sydney Harbour Bridge painter Justin Buhs climbs about a thousand steps a day from working on the iconic structure.

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Justin Buhs

5am After a bowl of cereal and a glass of juice I head off to Emu Plains train station for the hour-long commute to Circular Quay. I set the alarm, close my eyes and, before I know it, I'm at Central Station.

7am Arriving at the bridge's south pylon, I pull on some overalls and my safety boots before going to the lunch room for the daily toolbox talk on the day's work. I grab my personal protective gear and jump in the work truck with my colleagues to drive over to the north pylon. We pass through a security gate and climb 180 steps to the work site and I don my gear: rigger's gloves, earplugs and an oxygen-fed breathing hood. Steel tools are used to scrape, scratch and buff the old toxic lead paint off. Every tool and item I use must be tethered to me in case it falls.

Justin Buhs

Million-dollar views: Justin Buhs, bridge painter. Photo: Colin Cosier

10am You need a good bladder to work up here. People pay millions of dollars for this view and this is my office with one of the best views in the world. The weather is good today but winter gets very cold up here. The wind howls from the west. Then in summer you get a nice cool breeze.

11am Stop work, take off the gear, go down 180 steps and jump into the truck going to the south pylon. I have to decontaminate before I'm allowed to eat so the lead dust-covered overalls are chucked in the wash and I dive through the shower.

11.30am Lunch today is a bowl of pasta and some fruit and yoghurt.

Midday Grab new gear and anything else I'll need for the rest of the day. Back in the truck, back to the north side, back up 180 steps, into my breathing hood.

2pm The paint inspector checks my work and gives me the go-ahead to start painting. Two coats of first coat primer go on. Sometimes I pinch myself and think how can someone like myself get to work here but, look, someone has to do it.

3.10pm Pack up and secure the job site; 180 steps back down to the north pylon. Truck ride back to the south side. Overalls go in the wash again and I have another shower before heading to Circular Quay station. On the train I set an alarm to wake me up at Emu Plains. I've missed it and woken up in the Blue Mountains before.

5.15pm I arrive home. My wife and I share the cooking. I make tomorrow's lunch; then I relax in front of the TV.

9.30pm Off to bed, ready to do it all over again. I'm maintaining one of the most iconic structures in the world. I think it's pretty fabulous. I think I've got a pretty good job.